First actual content chapter is titled “of fencing in general”. And boy, it’s a long one, with 22 windy paragraps in total. It’s starting to also become painfully apparent that knowing Italian would be useful. The translation seems excellent, but there are always words that are ambiguous, and the inability to go back to the original becomes painful.
1) Men have hands, unlike animals. This is nice of Mother Nature, as then we can make tools, and use swords. Swords are the coolest and must be used with true valor.
2) Hence, swordsmanship is useful for everyone, and especially those who want a military career.
3) The aim of fencing is the defense of oneself (1). This means that everyone who loves themselves or their country should, obviously, study fencing.
4) It also means that in fencing, you should not attack except where you can do so with a legitimate defense(2).
5) Reason, nature, art, and practice are the four things that make fencing happen(3). Nature sets limits to what a human body can do. Reason, the human intellect and will, directs it to actually do the useful things.
6) In the body, things that matter are its size, agility, vigor, and quickness, and accuracy of eyes.
7) Nature sets limits to the physical matter, and also how it can be arranged. Art builds on that.
8) Art regulates nature, and describes in exact fact what could and should happen in each fencing situation.
9) Practice makes it actually happen.
10) Realistically, the body cannot do everything we wish it would. So the art is sort of just a model.
11) Because the human body behaves in a certain way, certain models make sense; such as resting in terza when defending, and attacking in quarta or seconda, the concept of tempo/measure, and the movements of the torso (weight on the left leg for defense, thrown to the right leg for offense).(4)
12) No doubt when people first started bashing each other, they used their fists. With fists, people do these things naturally: rest in a sort of terza, hit in quarta and seconda, and punches go in tempo and measure a lot.
13) Against fists, someone picked up a stick. Then they made sticks from iron. Then all sorts of different weapons. Then they found that the sword is the best.
14) Weapons that are so long that they are out of the natural offense/defense range are not civil at all. Excessively short ones can be used for stealthy murder and hence are prohibited in civilized countries. In fact, in the Republic of Ancient Rome, which was the coolest country ever, all weapons were prohibited except in war.
15) So when soldiers got home from war they put away all the military stuff and went on to do and study and practice peaceful things, and considered each other equals.
16) These days soldiers are a great pain in the arse, especially during peace, because all they can do is fight.
17) Anyway. Swords are the coolest. They work on the range of natural offense/defense and on a straight line, not an oblique one. The further a weapon is away from that natural function, the more barbaric it is. While some of this newfangled stuff is useful in wars, its use leads to all kinds of sin, misery, ignorance, filthiness, and so forth.
18) Now the guy who is taller than the opponent and has a sword that fits his proportions will always arrive to measure first. In some countries, this is partly compensated by making it illegal for people to carry swords that are longer than others. That way, the taller man only has the advantage of his natural height, which is fair enough, as the shorter man might have some other advantage of say quickness or experience. Making the taller man carry a shorter sword would be too much of an indignity anyway.
19) Fencing was invented a long time ago and a lots of cool people in history used to do it. These days we Italians do it best, though more in schools than in war, since we have artillery and such.
20) The study of fencing is an art, not philosophy(5). There’s nothing divine here, nor something that would surpass human understanding. It’s more like civil engineering. It builds passing situations instead of concrete things, though, so it’s cooler than arts that don’t.
21) The materials of the art of fencing are the principles of defending oneself with a sword. It is a complete system, infallible in its context.
22) But enough of this, let’s talk about the principles themselves.
(1) That sentence is actually a direct quote. There’s no paraphrasing it. According to the translator, it is also a pun in 17th Century Italian.
(2) Yay! An actual piece of fencing advice. “Close the line! Close the goddamned line!”
(3) He actually says “efficient causes”. See Four Causes in Wikipedia for Aristotle’s take on causality.
(4) There! The system has been described, we can stop here. For the unenlightened, there’ll be a chapter where he actually explains these terms.
(5) He actually says “an art, not science”. However, the meaning of ‘science’ has changed from those times. What I think Capo Ferro means is that fencing can be understood by human reason, it can be measured, put to words, and executed, same as building a bridge can; we might in fact call that “a craft, not a higher art” these days.